At Pepsi Center this morning, Nikola Jokic brushed off any notion that he was upset or slumping in last Saturday’s game. He alluded to “not feeling it” but also made it clear that he is perfectly happy with any outcome that results in a win, even if it means taking just three shots.
Head coach Malone says that he talked with Nikola Jokic after the game to make sure everything was alright. Just knowing that Malone pulled Jokic aside hints that this is an interesting spot for the team to be in. Jokic had a +21 plus-minus, by far the best on the team. The team won in blowout fashion. And yet, even Malone sensed that something was off.
The biggest change that the Nuggets appear to be adjusting to is how to fit two very unique and efficient bigs into a new offense and how to balance playing lineups that worked so well last season with lineups they need to work well this season.
I spoke with coach Malone, Nikola Jokic, and Kenneth Faried about their comfort level together since the Faried-Jokic front court was the team’s best pairing last season and one of the best two-man pairings in the entire NBA. Against Sacramento, the Nuggets went on an immediate 9-0 run once Faried entered the game alongside Jokic. The most interesting part for me was Jokic’c comments about his comfort level with Kenneth Faried and how quickly they found their chemistry.
Jokic on his chemistry with Faried
I think we know each other. I know what to expect of him and he knows what to expect of me. So just teammate stuff. I think we want to play with each other. He helps me a lot, and I help him a lot I think so.
It just pops sometimes.
On if he likes the team’s new offense
Yeah...I’m adjusting still. I like it but I’m adjusting. I like it.
On what he is adjusting to
Having one all-star next to me.
Everyone will interpret this differently and I certainly don’t think there is much cause for concern but it is noteworthy that he said with Faried it just pop and with Paul Millsap it is an adjustment.
Coach Malone on Faried-Jokic lineups
I just went up to him after the game and said ‘great job of rebounding, great job facilitating and being the playmaker that you are. And I said I have to help you get more shots than 3 field goal attempts.’ And he says ‘coach, teams are playing great defense against me. As long as we’re making the right plays and we’re scoring, it’s okay.’
As long as we’re winning he’s happy. So I’m not worried about anything. But as we talked about earlier, trying to get him going a little bit early will be good for him and us.
On the Faried-Jokic pairing and finding minutes for that duo
Nikola and Kenneth last year had just a great synergy and chemistry and they play off of each other, they compliment each other very well. And I think we saw that the other night.
The problem is, I’ll be very honest, we’re playing four bigs. most teams when they come in off the bench, they play small. Like tonight if Jason Smith doesn’t play, Washington is going to play small for 48 minutes. And now it’s a question of ‘can our bigs match up with their smalls?’ One of their weaknesses very early in the season is rebounding so can we pound them on the glass? But if their smalls are a tough match-up with our bigs then we may have to start going small as well.
Faried on playing with Jokic
I think cause I counter...we play off each other. He likes to pick and pop sometimes. I can pick and pop but I like to roll more to the basket. So he can find me rolling or he likes to find that pass even throwing the lob or getting the extra pass to have someone else throw the shovel pass and I’m able to finish over the top of people. And Jokic is able to do that same thing but not as aggressive, I guess. It’s just more so, he’s got that finesse game and I have that more aggressive.
It’s important to note that the Nuggets have outscored opponents by 9 points in 39 minutes with both Jokic and Millsap on the court. It’s an incredibly tiny sample size but that pairing has been very effective, even if it is a bit clunky looking at the moment. The defensive end of the court has been the big improvement so you would hope that if the team figures out their offense when those two are on the court, the sky is the limit.
For now, Malone will continue to have tough decisions to make when allocating minutes at the power forward spot.